“How can you be inclusive if you are Christ-centered?” This is one of the questions still ringing in my ears from a recent regional gathering of the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, a program of the Council of Independent Colleges, that focused on “Enriching Vocation through Religious Diversity.”
The colleges and universities represented in the room were all founded as part of Christian movements, and are now in various positions with regard to denominational and faith identity. It is striking in these contexts that Catholics and Mennonites seem the most unabashed in our faith-based identities.
Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, opened the conference with statistics about the increasing proportion of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other faith traditions in the United States, and how this is being driven by immigration and differential child-bearing patterns amongst religious and ethnic groups. Black and Brown Americans are having more children than White Americans. Truly, if we want our schools and civic spaces to flourish — not to mention survive in the face of these demographic shifts — we must educate toward interfaith and interracial awareness, knowledge and skillful actions.
I was a panelist in the final session, and spoke about our vision to be rooted in the way of Jesus and seek inclusive community and transformative justice in all that we do, and how our core values are centered around Christ. In the context of an interfaith conference, this was provocative, and I admit, deliberately so. A professor from a progressive Christian seminary confronted me with the question: “How can you be inclusive if you are Christ-centered?” I would love to hear your responses to this question.
The last thing I want to do in my leadership of Goshen College is to rigidly preserve the remains of a stale artifice of Christianity — Mennonite Christianity, in our case. If you see evidence of this, please confront me!
On the contrary, in my experience the way of Jesus is radically inclusive. I believe we are called to tend the flame of a living learning tradition that will fuel the necessary revolutions and plant the seeds of an emerging new creation arising from the Spirit of God at work in all of its diverse and magnificent human images.
Is it possible that in this time of acute and painful need for us to get along better, our most radical vocation is to go deeper — rather than thinner — on our Anabaptist-Mennonite identity, because to be Christ-centered is true fuel and seed for such a new creation? I would propose that the answer is “Yes!”
However, if we who are White multi-generational Christians feel comfortable or self-justified in that yes, it is a sure signal for us to go deeper. We are not called to be centered in “White-Christianity-as-we-have-known-it.”
Richard Rohr writes that we are in a cyclical 500-year moment of religious reformation and upheaval, a giant “rummage sale” in which the church must rid itself of what is no longer needed and rediscover treasures it had forgotten. He writes,
“We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater but reclaim the essential truths. And remember that truth anywhere is truth everywhere. With each rebirth, Christianity becomes more inclusive and universal, as it was always meant to be.”
I’ll end with the other question that I took away from this conference: How can we deepen our Christian identity — be ever more rooted in the way of Jesus — while actively deconstructing White Christian dominance over people of other faiths and colors?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.